Experts: U.S. copyright law needs renewal

By Curtis Sprung, Medill News Service  |  July 16, 2014 at 10:55 AM
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WASHINGTON, July 16 (UPI) -- With the abundance of Sherlock Holmes TV shows and movie series in production today, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the popular detective exists in the public domain. But how long will it be before Mickey Mouse or Darth Vader can be used by artists and producers everywhere?

U.S. copyright law hasn't been updated in years. While the European Union has updated its laws, U.S. copyright terms and other agreements are putting American artists at a disadvantage, experts told a House subcommittee Tuesday. Long terms damage older copyrights and complicate the process of distributing and maintaining those works.

The House Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet is considering a measure to update the laws. The bill would implement resale royalties for works of visual art.

Michael Carroll, a law professor American University who is associated with Creative Commons USA, proposed a change to the copyright laws that would force copyright holders to express their interest in retaining the copyright after 50 years had passed. This 50 + 20 rule would allow copyright holders to maintain their copyright for the 70 year duration of the current law, but would also allow certain copyrights to enter the public domain faster.

Thomas D. Sydnor II, visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, raised questions about the 50 + 20 rule, saying that other nations might impose a similar rule, and the burden of completing several national renewal requirements might hurt copyright holders.

"Copyrights have to expire. The Constitution says so," said Carroll, citing Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the Constitution. "The copyright term is far too long."

Members of the committee also raised questions regarding resale royalties for content creators, specifically in regards to visual art.

"Resale royalty exists in 70 countries right now," said Karyn Claggett, associate register of copyrights at the U.S. Copyright Office.

Claggett noted that the European Union extended resale royalties to all of its member states in 2001, and argued that U.S.-based artists and creators now "operate at a disadvantage."

"The issue is of fundamental fairness," she said.

Claggett argued that resale royalties were more relevant than ever, with a growing international community that both recognizes, and embraces the ability of art to appreciate value.

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